First, apologies for going “radio silent”. We’ve been, more or less, without power for just over three days now. Until yesterday evening, we had a sort of hint of it available. It was, interestingly enough, sufficient to keep both our cellphone chargers working, the modem and wi-fi router, and one LED based lamp. Intermittently there was enough to run my laptop charger and/or Henry’s tablet charger. After about 30 hours, our water tank ran out, because the pump couldn’t work. There’s still water available from a tap at the base of the tank, which we can fill buckets from. Last night, we apparently made a deal with our next door neighbors (we’re right on the line of the “blackout zone”, and tapped into their electricity enough to run more lights, and get the refrigerators back on (thankfully, we have the keys to a nearby friend’s apartment while she’s out of town, so we’d moved our frozen stuff over there already). That’s been life for a few days, and the local power company, Edesur, has yet to even dispatch someone to check the problem, though if you call them, they’re of course “hard at work to get you back in service soon”.
We’ve also been silent on the Reinventing the Whisk challenges. The last one we attempted fell through with schedule conflicts all around, and I’ve been spending my “experiment day” doing the Bread & Soup Project, so it fell by the wayside. Kevin talked me into giving it another go, and we did a spin of the wheel and the four ingredients came up “Seafood, Cauliflower, Tahini, Sumac”. Actually a very reasonable combination, very Middle Eastern sounding. Kevin came up against not having access to sumac, so we decided to make it “dried, aromatic red berries”, and tossed pink peppercorns and goji berries in as options, the latter of which he was able to source at a local health food store in The Keys.
Right off the bat I knew I wanted to try an interesting tempura technique that I’d just seen on the latest episode of Top Chef España, a dish by famed chef Dani García. He used a type of sea bass called lubina, which I’ve not seen here before, and it required a whole fish, so that the skin would still be on the fillets (it’s near impossible here to get filleted fish with skin, other than salmon and pejerrey – the latter of which will figure in below at one point). I was all set to just use a fresh sea bass of another sort, when I realized that we were in the midst of a four-day holiday weekend, Saturday through Tuesday, and none of the fish markets were open, nor, if they happened to be, would they have fish that had been delivered any more recently than the previous Friday (this was on last Tuesday). So I hit the fish counter at the local supermarket, figuring they’d have one or another whole fish, frozen, and I’d go with that. And there, sitting in the freezer, were four frozen lubina, so I could use the same fish from his demonstration!
The Dani García “Lubina frita con la pimienta negra” dish (it has a balsamic teriyaki sauce, and a puree of celeriac underneath it).
So I bought one. Filleted it. Removed the bones. And then, cut the fish into a checkerboard, down to the skin, but not cutting through it. Brushed it with beaten egg white, then a little salt and a lot of coarsely ground black pepper. Then dredged it in cornstarch, and…
…rolled it into a cylinder with the skin on the inside, and into a pot of hot oil to deep fry. This opens up that checkerboard pattern, gives more crispy surfaces, and looks really cool when it comes out – sort of like a giant piece of calamari that’s been scored might, or a corncob effect. With practice, I’m sure this comes out even prettier.
This is the finished plate. The other elements are:
A cauliflower fluid gel: Boiled cauliflower florets in water until soft, then pureed them with garlic that’s been poached until soft in butter, milk and bit of agar-agar to set the gel, plus a little of the cooking water to get a really smooth puree. Seasoned with salt and pepper to taste, and then into the refrigerator to set. When it was set, I blitzed it with a hand blender, and then just warmed the amount I need and dolloped it on the plate.
Wax beans: blanched and shocked, then cut on a diagonal to look pretty, rewarmed in butter with a pinch of salt. Spooned over the cauliflower puree.
Sauce: Roughly equal parts of ground sumac, tahini, fresh ginger, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice. A dash of maple syrup for sweetness, some olive oil and just enough water to blend it all really smoothly, and seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.
Za’atar: More or less – I stretched the concept with equal quantities of dried thyme, dried mint, sumac, and sesame seeds, all pulverized together and sprinkled over the plate.
It was absolutely delicious, the sauce beautifully balanced, the whole thing just a great dish. I immediately decided to sub it in for my planned fish main course for the week’s menu, one that we’ve done before, so this was an opportunity to introduce a new one.
Knowing that there were only three frozen lubina left in the supermarket freezer, and it not being nice fresh fish (not only frozen, but imported from Spain, and, expensive!), I thought of using the pejerrey, our fave local freshwater fish, which is almost always available, and skin-on. So I did the same process with the pejerrey – it’s a much thinner fillet, and the skin is more delicate. I also don’t really have a pot big enough to cook a dozen of them rolled up like the sea bass, so I decided to pan fry them. They still get that cool checkerboard look, just not as “separated”.
The rest of the dish was basically the same, though to perk it up a little more, I made the za’atar with fresh mint, dill, and thyme instead of dried (plus adding in the dill), the sumac and sesame seeds, toasted, and thin rounds of ají limo chilies to give it a little more kick. Even better than “the original”! The freshness of the herbs brings a whole new dimension to both the za’atar and the dish.